"I am Providence, and Providence is myself - to get her, indissolubly as one, we stand thro' the ages."
- H.P. Lovecraft
(1603 - 1683)
Visionary thinker on religious freedom, equal treatment of Native Americans, and founder of Providence. William's ideas of liberty and freedom of conscience made Rhode Island a haven for persecuted religious groups and laid the groundwork for the ideas of liberty, equality, and the separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution. He wrote, "... that no civil magistrate, no King ... have any power over the souls or consciences of their subjects, in the matters of God ..."
The Brown Brothers
Among the original settlers of Providence in the 1600s, the Brown family emerged as powerful financial, industrial and cultural leaders shaping many of the city's institutions through the centuries, from churches and schools to industry and historic preservation.
Moses: (1738-1836) Founder of the first abolitionist society in Rhode Island, Moses Brown was a philanthropist and pioneer industrialist.
John: (1736-1803) First from Rhode Island to enter the China Trade, John Brown was founder of the Providence Bank — the first bank in Rhode Island, — industrialist, U.S. Congressman, and slave trader. He built the grandest house in town and entertained presidents.
Nicholas: (1729-1791) Nicholas Brown was a merchant and builder of a great fortune, and was instrumental in relocating Rhode Island College, later named Brown University, to Providence.
Joseph: (1733-1785) College professor, Joseph Brown was an astronomer and architect of several of the city's major 18th century landmark buildings.
William J. Brown
The son of slaves owned by Moses Brown, William was a free African American born in Providence. A sailor, homemaker, and temperance movement supporter, Brown wrote in his autobiography entitled Life (1883):
"Mr. Brown, my grandfather's master, seemed well satisfied with his help and thought that although hey were his property ... (it was) hence wrong to confine them any longer to servitude ... This was some time before the general emancipation in the State."
Matilda Sissieretta Jones
Born in Virginia, but later making College Hill in Providence her home, this world renowned soprano sang for four presidents at the White House and the British Royal Family. She was the first African American to perform at the New York City Music Hall, later known as Carnegie Hall.
Margaret Bingham Stillwell
A resident of Benefit Street and the accomplished librarian of
the Annmary Brown Memorial, Margaret Stillwell wrote two
books defending the street's reputation in the 1940s when
the area was in serious decline, calling for residents to repair buildings to "the spirit of youth which ... is still not too far gone to be recaptured." Her vision was realized ten years later when Antoinette Downing and John Nicholas Brown helped launch the Providence Preservation Society.
A master of weird fiction, the East Side resident Lovecraft achieved fame after his death. Author Stephen King described him as "... the 20th century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale."
Influenced by Poe, who spent time at the Providence Athenaeum, Lovecraft created a unique world of fantasy and the macabre in stories such as the "Cthulhu Mythos."
In his book "The Shunned House" (1924), inspired by a Colonial house on Benefit Street, his fascination for tombs is apparent.
Antoinette Forrester Downing
Referred to as the matriarch of Providence preservation, Antoinette Downing championed the rescue and restoration of hundreds of 18th and 19th century buildings in the College Hill District. Her visionary work and tireless advocacy in the face of resistance helped save the architectural heritage of the city.
"The city planners are now saying nice things about little old ladies in tennis shoes." - Downing, New York Times, May 2, 1985
The Irrepressible Society
A charitable organization founded in the mid-19th century by prominent ladies who lived on or near Benefit Street, the Irrepressibles raised funds to pay poor families to make clothing for those in need, as well as provide new shoes, coal and other household goods.